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During Economic Crisis Wealth of 400 Richest Americans Increased by $30 Billion

October 2nd, 2009 | Filed under Economy, News . Follow comments through RSS 2.0 feed. Click here to comment, or trackback.

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By Les Leopold, Author of The Looting of America

During Economic Crisis Wealth of 400 Richest Americans Increased by $30 Billion

It’s great to know that during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans, according to Forbes, actually increased by $30 billion. Well golly, that’s only a 2 percent increase, much less than the double digit returns the wealthy had grown accustomed to. But a 2 percent increase is a whole lot more than losing 40 percent of your 401k. And $30 billion is enough to provide 500,000 school teacher jobs at $60k per year.

Collectively, those 400 have $1.57 trillion in wealth. It’s hard to get your mind around a number like that. The way I do it is to imagine that we were still living during the great radical Eisenhower era of the 1950s when marginal income tax rates hit 91 percent. Taxes were high back in the 1950s because people understood that constraining wild extremes of wealth would make our country stronger and prevent another depression. (Well, what did those old fogies know?)

Had we kept those high progressive taxes in place, instead of removing them, especially during the Reagan era, the Forbes 400 might each be worth “only” $100 million instead of $3.9 billion each. So let’s imagine that the rest of their wealth, about $1.53 trillion, were available for the public good.

What does $1.53 trillion buy?

It’s more than enough to insure the uninsured for the next twenty years or more.

It’s more than enough to create a Manhattan Project to solve global warming by developing renewable energy and a green, sustainable manufacturing sector.

And here’s my favorite: It’s more than enough to endow every public college and university in the country so that all of our children could gain access to higher education for free, forever!

Instead, we embarked on a grand experiment to see what would happen if we deregulated finance and changed the tax code so that millionaires could turn into billionaires. And even after that experiment failed in the most spectacular way, our system seems trapped into staying on the same deregulated path.

Instead of free higher education, health care and a sustainable economy, we got a fantasy finance boom and bust on Wall Street which crashed the real economy. We have our 400 billionaires, and we have 29 million unemployed and underemployed Americans. We have an infrastructure in shambles. We have an environment in crisis. We have a health care system that would make Rube Goldberg proud. And we have the worst income distribution since 1929.

I hazard to guess that each and every Forbes 400 member could get by with a net worth of $100 million. I don’t think that would kill their entrepreneurial drive or harm our economy–in fact it would be a major boon to the economy to step back from the edge of such massive concentration of wealth. The real problem is getting there form here. A wealth tax that kicks in when you become worth more than $100 million would be a good start. The Eisenhower tax rate on adjustable gross income over $3 million a year would help as well.

And please let’s not call it socialism, now that we’ve placed the entire financial sector on welfare to the tune of over $13 trillion in subsidies and guarantees. (By the way, the yearly budget outlays for means tested programs for low income citizens is about $350 billion per year. So Wall Street’s welfare is about 37 times as large as welfare for poor.)

So if narrowing the income/wealth gap isn’t socialism, what is it? It’s the America that thrived in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s the America that created a middle-class and vowed never to let the financial gamblers return us to another depression. It’s an America that put its people to work and built an infrastructure that was the envy of the world.

Where’s Dwight David Eisenhower when we need him?

– Les Leopold is the author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It, Chelsea Green Publishing, June 2009.

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  1. Bruce Budy said:

    Where does the $30 billion increase come from, when the Forbes article says that they “suffered’ a $300 billion loss?

  2. [...] * Workers between the age of 55 – 60, who have worked for 20 – 29 years, have lost an average of 25 percent off their 401k. During the same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans went up by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion. [...]

  3. [...] * Workers between the age of 55 – 60, who have worked for 20 – 29 years, have lost an average of 25 percent off their 401k. During the same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans went up by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion. [...]

  4. [...] As the looting is occurring at the top, the US middle class is just beginning to collapse. * Workers between the age of 55 – 60, who have worked for 20 – 29 years, have lost an average of25 percent off their 401k. During the same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans went up by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion. [...]

  5. [...] * Workers between the age of 55 – 60, who have worked for 20 – 29 years, have lost an average of 25 percent off their 401k. During the same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans went up by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion. [...]

  6. [...] * Workers between the age of 55 – 60, who have worked for 20 – 29 years, have lost an average of 25 percent off their 401k. During the same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans went up by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion. [...]

  7. [...] same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans went up by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion. * Home foreclosure filings

  8. [...]  4) Workers between the ages of 55 to 60, who have worked for 20 to 29 years, have lost an average of 25 percent off their 401k. During the same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans went up by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion. [...]

  9. [...] * Workers between the age of 55 – 60, who have worked for 20 – 29 years, have lost an average of 25 percent off their 401k. During the same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans went up by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion. [...]

  10. [...] 4) Workers between the ages of 55 to 60, who have worked for 20 to 29 years, have lost an average of 25 percent off their 401k. During the same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans went up by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion. [...]

  11. The Rev said:

    It’s all and good to blame everything on not taxing the rich but this my friend is bull-shit. Our problems are so deep and entrenched that your little diatribe really says – well nothing at all – the richer you are you – the more taxes you should pay – ok duh. So what about the poorer you are the more you should be legally obligated to take whatever courses, job availabilities or career help offered before you go on welfare. You should be obligated to volunteer if you receive welfare at schools or soup kitchens. It IS socialism what your saying. 90% taxes on anyone is ridiculous – “good old Eisenhoweser” days and all. You are probably about middle class and write about these kinds of problems rather than coming out of your own pocket to deal with them. I am so tired of ignorant blanket statements by both the left and the right as to what is effective and good or bad. We all know right from wrong and can see who is contributing to the world and who isn’t – now we need to lose the PR spin and make black and white calls as to what needs to be – not whine like sad sack hippies at a pot rally.

  12. A Mukherjee said:

    There is a sustainable level of looting below which society will not react adversely. The filthy rich have researched this and know when to limit their profits, so nothing will ever come out of this, no revolutionary change in laws and taxes, no nothing, except silently accepting the rape.

  13. James Hughes said:

    “So let’s imagine that the rest of their wealth, about $1.53 trillion, were available for the public good. ”

    And by ‘available’ you mean if we had legally stolen what other men had produced. Without those men that $1.53 Trillion would not exist, and neither would the goods and services they sold to earn it.

  14. James Hughes said:

    It is also amusing that your book is titled “The Looting of America,” since that is precisely what you advocate.

  15. Stephen Fisher-Bradley said:

    Whenever anyone produces anything, the wherewithal to do so comes primarily from the produce of nature which was here before any humans and belongs equally to all, and the accumulated labour and ingenuity of 100s of generations of everyone’s ancestors. 99% of the people through history who have produced the wealth we all now enjoy were slaves, serfs, or ill-paid workers. The existing inequalities which give some more of an access to the common inheritance are the result of looting, slavery, war lordism, drug running, etc. No one becomes ultra wealthy from their own effort, we all stand on the shoulders of millions. To recognise and pay the share of the wealth that legitimately belongs to everyone, is not Socialism, because it is done by progressive taxation, in a way that preserves private property and free markets.
    When any person or corporation becomes too wealthy there is no free market because they have unfair advantages. Trimming the bloat is essential to preserve the free market.

  16. Agrees with Stephen Fisher-Bradley said:

    Couldn’t agree with you more Stephen, older cultures tend to understand this but unfortunately Columbus didn’t sale the Ocean Blue until 1692 (which isn’t even correct.. but hey, it rhymes)

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  18. [...] same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point [...]

  19. [...] same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point [...]

  20. [...] same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point [...]

  21. [...] same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point [...]

  22. [...] same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point [...]

  23. [...] time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point [...]

  24. [...] time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point [...]

  25. [...] same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point [...]

  26. [...] time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point [...]

  27. [...] same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point [...]

  28. [...] time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point [...]

  29. [...] same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point [...]

  30. [...] same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point [...]

  31. [...] 4) Workers between the ages of 55 to 60, who have worked for 20 to 29 years, have lost an average of 25 percent off their 401k. During the same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans went up by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion. [...]

  32. [...] * Workers between the age of 55 – 60, who have worked for 20 – 29 years, have lost an average of 25 percent off their 401k. During the same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans went up by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion. [...]

  33. [...] same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point [...]

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